Basketball Rules

This complete guide covers all the key rules and regulations around equipment, scoring, gameplay, penalties and more. Read on to become a basketball rules expert!

Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world, played by over 300 million people globally. The game requires speed, agility, skill and strategy. While the basic concept of basketball is to shoot the ball through the hoop to score points, there are many rules that govern gameplay. Understanding the rules is crucial both for playing the game recreationally as well as competitively.

Field and Equipment

A regulation basketball court is 94 feet long and 50 feet wide. The court is divided into two sections by the midcourt line. There are three-point lines at 23 feet 9 inches from each basket. The hoop sits 10 feet above the ground. Professional basketball hoops measure 18 inches in diameter whereas most recreational hoops are slightly smaller at 15-17 inches.

The ball used is a spherical inflated ball between 29.5 to 30 inches circumference and weighs between 20 to 22 ounces. For indoor play, it has an outer leather, nylon or composite cover. Rubber balls are used mostly outdoors due to their ability to absorb impact on concrete.

Players wear lightweight shorts, jerseys and athletic sneakers with good traction. Guards tend to wear low top shoes for speed while taller players wear high tops for ankle stability. All equipment must conform to regulations for professional play.

Basketball Rules : Gameplay Rules

  • Games are played between two teams of 5 players each. Substitutions are unlimited.
  • The game has 4 x 12 minute quarters with breaks in between. Overtime periods are 5 minutes long.
  • Possession alternates between teams at the start of each quarter or after a scored basket.
  • The offensive team tries to score by shooting the ball through the hoop or collecting rebounds.
  • The defensive team tries to regain possession through steals, blocks or forcing missed shots.
  • Players advance the ball by passing, dribbling (bouncing the ball) or running with the ball.
  • Dribbling requires a player to keep contact with the ball at all times. Double dribbling is illegal.
  • Players cannot run with the ball without dribbling, hold the ball and move or carry it from below.
  • Physical contact between opponents should be minimized. Personal, blocking or charging fouls may be called.


  • A regular field goal scored inside the 3 point line is worth 2 points.
  • Field goals scored from outside the 3 point line are worth 3 points.
  • Free throw shots awarded after a foul are worth 1 point each.
  • A player who is fouled while shooting and scores gets the field goal points plus 1 free throw.
  • If a shooting foul occurs on a missed field goal, the player gets 2 or 3 free throws depending on where they attempted the shot.

Match Procedures

  • Games start with a jump ball at center court between 2 opponents. Possession then alternates.
  • Substitutions can occur during breaks, timeouts or between scored baskets when the clock is stopped.
  • Each team is allotted a certain number of timeouts per half to strategize.
  • The shot clock requires a team to attempt a field goal within 24 seconds of gaining possession.
  • Violations result in turnovers. Examples include out of bounds, traveling (extra steps without dribbling) and 3 seconds in the key.
  • Personal fouls result in free throws or possession. Players foul out after their 5th personal.
  • Technical fouls due to unsportsmanlike behavior lead to 1 free throw plus possession.

Advanced Basketball Rules and Strategies

There are many advanced tactics employed in basketball:

  • Picking involves a player setting a screen to block their teammate’s defender.
  • Post play is a common strategy with taller players positioned near the basket.
  • Fast breaks allow players to quickly advance the ball after a turnover.
  • Full court press has defenders guarding opponents closely across the court.
  • Zone defense involves guarding specific areas rather than individual players.
  • Double teaming is when two defenders guard a single player.
  • Drawing charges involves trying to force opponents to foul.
  • Boxing out requires players to gain good rebounding position.

Coaches employ many strategies involving plays, shot selection, substitutions and defensive formations. Mastering the advanced nuances of basketball rules enables greater success.


The rules of basketball govern all aspects of the game – from player conduct to equipment specifications. A strong grasp of how the game is structured enables competitive play as well as an appreciation as a spectator. While the basic goal is to score more points than the other team, the intricate rules create a complex and exciting sport. From dribbling to rebounds, layups to slam dunks, basketball combines athleticism, finesse and strategy within the framework of its well-defined rules.

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